Castelli November Feature – Celebrating the life and work of C S Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis
(29th November 1898 – 22nd November 1963)
Clive Staples Lewis is one of the most influential writers on Christian faith of the twentieth century. Author of more than 70 titles, all written on the trusty paper notebook, include works of science fiction, fantasy, poetry, and Christian writings, Lewis’s book sales are reported to be more than 2 million annually.
CS Lewis, or “Jack”, as he preferred to be called, was born in Belfast, on November 29, 1898. He was the youngest son of Albert, a lawyer, and Flora. His older brother, Warren, affectionately known as “Warnie”, was three years his senior.
Warnie and Jack had a carefree and happy childhood, playing and exploring together in their large family home with narrow corridors and a huge overgrown garden. They would fantasise about large animals, imaginary lands and tales of gallantry, which keeping them entertained for years, setting strong roots to keep Ireland close their hearts. In fact two of Jack’s favourite stories were Treasure Island and The Secret Garden, both full of imagination and enchantment.
When he was just 10, this relaxed boyhood was cut short as his mother became ill dying of cancer in 1908. Barely a month after her death the two boys were sent away to boarding school in England. Lewis hated the school, with its strict rules and hard, apathetic headmaster, and he missed Belfast terribly. Fortunately for him, the school closed in 1910, and he was able to return to Ireland.
Following this came a mixture of private tuition and public schools such as Malvern in Worcestershire, but now a growing teenager, Lewis found himself learning to love poetry, especially the works of Virgil and Homer. He also developed an interest in modern languages, mastering French, German, and Italian.
Lewis was offered a scholarship at University College, Oxford University, but in 1917, this was interrupted as he volunteered to join the British army in the First World War. He was transferred to the Somme valley where he took part in trench warfare but in the last months of the war, he was injured by a shell and sent home to recuperate from his injuries. During his period of convalescence he became increasingly friendly with Janie Moore – the mother of a close army friend Edward ‘Paddy’ Moore. He was very close to Mrs Moore, often referring to her as his mother until her death in the 1940s.
Following the end of the war in 1918, Lewis returned to Oxford, where he returned to his studies again with great enthusiasm, completing his degree with top class honours and being awarded a fellowship teaching position at Magdalen College from 1925 to 1954.
Throughout the 1920’s Lewis was a prolific writer, forming close friendships with such Oxford greats as JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. They formed an informal group known as the “Inklings” which also included Warnie, and would meet locally to read parts of their novels. It is thought that these meetings encouraged Tolkien to write his epic Lord of the Rings. Here, Lewis also found himself re-embracing Christianity after having become disillusioned with his faith as a youth. He would go on to became an influential supporter for Christianity through publications such as the Screwtape letters, where he explained his spiritual beliefs via platforms of logic and philosophy.
His Christian beliefs also influenced his more popular works such as the Chronicles of Narnia. Initially when Lewis turned to writing children’s books, again on notebooks, his publisher and some friends tried to dissuade him; they thought it would harm his reputation as writer of serious works. In particular, Tolkien criticised The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe for including too many elements that clashed – talking animals and children alongside, a Father Christmas and an evil witch. This did not deter him and following the first publication he quickly wrote 6 more books, publishing the final one, The Last Battle, in 1956.
Not initially well received by critics and reviewers, the books gained in popularity through word of mouth. The Chronicles of Narnia have since sold more than 100 million copies and are among the most beloved books of classic children’s literature.
His untimely death just before his 65th birthday went quietly unnoticed as it clashed with the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Nevertheless, C S Lewis is remembered today, by generations of readers all over the world.